Tom's Hardware Talks To Champion Rally Drivers About Technology

Subaru invited us out to attend the 2012 Olympus Rally, so we went and watched the race, took some pictures, and interviewed some of big names in rally racing, including Ken Block, concept director of the viral Gymkhana Five video on YouTube.

When most of us think about auto racing, we think Formula, stock car, and drag. The events associated with those motorsports typically consist of corporate-sponsored teams with lots of money for research and development. At the highest levels, you sit in the stands and watch; you don't get to participate.

Rally racing, on the other hand, makes it possible for pro drivers and hobbyists to run the same courses together. It's typically broken up into multiple stages, where participants drive as quickly as possible from one point to the next in each stage. Here in the States, Rally America is the organization that sanctions the Rally America National Championship, which includes a number of rally races scored on a points system.

We sat roadside and soaked in all of the...gravel.We sat roadside and soaked in all of the...gravel.

At the top of the rally pyramid, you find the official manufacturer teams that include Ford, Subaru, and Scion. Then you have the teams that are fairly well-equipped, and typically sponsored by racing schools, oil companies, or even car dealerships that participate in different race classes. Lastly, you see the hobbyists who show up in their own vehicles to have a good time. These are the do-it-yourselfers able to put a car together for weekend events and the seasoned drivers out there for a thrill.

In many ways, rally events are similar to the large LAN parties in our computer world. Take PDXLAN, for example, in Portland, Oregon. You have the insane case modders sponsored by component vendors for their builds, the manufacturers showing off their hardware, and the enthusiasts looking to enjoy themselves. No matter who you are, though, everyone at a LAN party is there to play games, even if some are more competitive than others.

With that parallel in mind, we were happy to accept an invitation from Subaru of America to attend the Olympus Rally in Shelton, Washington, the final race of the season, and spend time with the company's rally team. During the event, we sat down to talk to drivers, co-drivers, and engineers for official Subaru Rally Team, the Lucas Oil-Wolf LED Rally Team, and Ken Block, co-founder of DC Shoes and purveyor of the Gymkhana video series. Some of the names and cars you'll recognize from games like DiRT. Others might be new to you. But they all combine the very best in automotive technology with the devices PC enthusiasts know and love to do their jobs better.

Why did we feel compelled to cover this event in the first place? Well, it all started when a couple of us around the office started passing around Ken's Gymkhana Five: Ultimate Urban Playground; San Francisco and excitedly chatted about the technology that must have been involved bringing that project to fruition. If you haven't seen the video yet, which has more than 37,000,000 views as of this writing, then check it out. It's a seriously impressive piece of work with an appearance by Travis Pastrana (who was replaced on the Subaru Rally Racing Team by our first interviewee, David Higgins).

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    Top Comments
  • Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography
    13
  • Other Comments
  • Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography
    13
  • What?! No Bill Caswell?
    0
  • Ken Block WR8 FLUX!
    -1
  • 666313 said:
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less! Nice photography


    We try to spice things up and it was a good and fun opportunity.

    I felt a little inadequate running around with a micro 4/3s camera (Panasonic GH2) and a couple primes (Olympus 45mm & Panasonic 25mm) while everyone had D800s, but quite happy with the photo results.

    696345 said:
    What?! No Bill Caswell?


    He wasn't at the Olympus Rally.
    3
  • Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    -3
  • Nice, nice, nice, nice.

    Kudos, Toms!

    Cheers!
    -1
  • Ken Block a rally driver? LOL. Take a look at his WRC competition record and have a laugh. He should stick to making videos that wow the masses sheeple who don't know that real drivers have no need for such spectacles.
    -2
  • The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?
    -1
  • What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?
    -1
  • 423231 said:
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?


    Because Richard Burns Rally was last released in 2004, and Dirt and F1 are have more recent releases. And no we're not getting payed to mention Dirt or F1, they're just two recent racing games we at Tom's Hardware quite enjoy. Nothing against iRacing, its really cool and all but not as recognizable to the average PC gamer.
    0
  • 117113 said:
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing. Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :) I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?


    Call me crazy, but I would love to rally a manual Subaru Justy 4WD for shits and giggles.
    0
  • tuaniesBecause Richard Burns Rally was last released in 2004, and Dirt and F1 are have more recent releases. And no we're not getting payed to mention Dirt or F1, they're just two recent racing games we at Tom's Hardware quite enjoy. Nothing against iRacing, its really cool and all but not as recognizable to the average PC gamer.


    Thank you for the answer. Very good article.
    0
  • Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    Yuka 01/08/2013 2:31 PM


    Coming from a rally family myself I can tell you thats not true. I cant speak for all these drivers but I know a good chunk of them its an Andriod thing. Sorry were not hipsters...Great article though and has alot fo truth to it.
    1
  • Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    Yuka 01/08/2013 2:31 PM


    Coming from a rally family myself I can tell you thats not true. I cant speak for all these drivers but I know a good chunk of them its an Andriod thing. Sorry were not hipsters...Great article though and has alot fo truth to it.
    1
  • I've been to several rally races, and all I can say is those drivers must have the largest cojones. Some of the stuff they do is incredible.

    @tiret
    Also, I'm no apple fanboy, and all the rally enthusiasts I know personally are not apple fanboys either. Maybe we're just some of the few though :)
    -1
  • Thanks for the write up. It's always interesting to see our sport from an "outsider's" perspective.

    I'll agree that even though the big names might bring up IPhones, there are a ton of PC/Android competitors as well. The Android Marketplace even has an App for tracking rally cars, developed by NASA (The other major US Sanctioning body).

    As per Burns Rally, I realize it's dated. However the community still supports updates and modifications, and I know a number of privateers that use it as a training tool for smaller events with in the US.

    Sitting in the co-drivers seat, I would concur with the advice Craig noted as to how technology eases my prep work. When I'm going to compete in a new area, I can research the event venues and use Google Maps/Earth to pull Street View images of intersections, restaurants, and that cabin we're renting in the woods. Whilst on stage or in transit, a super accurate user-calibrated odometer and GPS technologies help make sure you are where you think you are.

    I can also distribute information to our crew before the event using email and group chats, and then blast texts or use the HAM radio to talk back to folks in service. Lastly, we try to post updates to the Facebook car on transits and in service (cell signal permitting) so that those fans [er our family and friends] that didn't get suckered into coming along can keep up with the event from the comfort of their living room or office.

    So much of what the co-driver does is logistics, so anything that helps to automate the process, or enable better communication will be welcomed within the car.

    Thanks again for the article!
    0
  • Why isn't this more popular in the US? Production based cars racing in all weather conditions on all road surfaces. I'd support this in a heartbeat over boring NASCAR.
    0
  • brenroWhy isn't this more popular in the US? Production based cars racing in all weather conditions on all road surfaces. I'd support this in a heartbeat over boring NASCAR.


    Many reasons, not the least of which would be getting this type of racing into an official professional sanctioned event (like off-road racing trucks). Then of course where would you actually have the tracks? Racing in America started out in circles on dirt tracks and expanded from there in closed course racing. Rally racing has been around a long time in non-US nations and has many decades of followers and well-established tracks (many of which require shutting down parts of towns and roads where they run through).

    While I do believe rally racing would have a following in America, it would not be even remotely close to what NASCAR and other racing venues have (like Grand Am and LeMans which are now merging). These establishments have a very strong fan base going back several generations. And with all that, comes plenty of marketing money and advertisement dollars and investment revenue. I highly doubt rally racing would take off enough in America to be a commercial success.
    -1
  • brenroWhy isn't this more popular in the US? Production based cars racing in all weather conditions on all road surfaces. I'd support this in a heartbeat over boring NASCAR.

    In a rally you can watch at the finish line where there are seats and roof but you won't get to see much action. You have to be on the track sidelines standing, holding an umbrella or something while enduring the harsh environment.
    In NASCAR you can just sit there with binoculars and watch the whole race.

    It's all about the venue. Americans will probably be too lazy to travel to "hot spots" on the rally track and waiting for the cars to pass by, one at a time... waiting for cars to roll/crash.
    0
  • Rally Racing is my favorite form of motorsports. Its a real car you can buy and its just modified for racing. You would have a hard time finding a real car in nascar or anything else. Plus, I love the whole driver/navigator setup.
    I hope to see more of it in the U.S.
    -1